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The massive impact of Hurricane Katrina and her cousin Rita

Georgia Institute Of Technology : 30 September, 2005  (New Product)
In Dauphin Island, Ala., Assistant Professor Hermann Fritz surveys the over-washed island with a laser range finder. In the background is an offshore oil platform that broke loose.
The massive impact of Hurricane Katrina and her cousin Rita this past summer captured the nation's attention and compelled many to respond.

At the Georgia Institute of Technology, experts across campus responded with research, training and service projects. Among their goals are better infrastructure design, configuration of port operations to reduce down time, protection of cleanup and construction workers and accessibility to services and housing for hurricane victims with disabilities.

'During the coming months and years, there will be many opportunities for the talents of our unique community to help our fellow citizens in the impacted areas recover from this stunning disaster,' says Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough.

With a grant from the National Science Foundation, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering David Frost organized three teams of researchers, including graduate students, to conduct week-long field studies. They assessed infrastructure damage in the Gulf Coast region in September and October.

Frost and his colleagues have conducted numerous post-disaster reconnaissance studies following major natural and human-induced events, including earthquakes in Asia and California, the Indian Ocean tsunami and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City.

'These studies have yielded significant new insights into both the characteristics of the events as well as the performance of manmade infrastructure subjected to these catastrophic events,' notes Frost, who is director of Georgia Tech's Savannah, Ga., campus.

One of the research teams, led by Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Glenn Rix, is determining the link between physical damage from Hurricane Katrina and the operational capacity and recovery of Gulf Coast ports, including the Port of New Orleans. Meanwhile, researchers led by Frost are analyzing wind and storm surge damage data they collected from across the Gulf Coast region.

The studies may help define a zone that is potentially subject to certain types of damage. Then engineers could design structures within a certain distance of the shore to a higher standard than those farther inland, Frost explains. For example, in Savannah, one set of building codes applies to structures on the east side of Interstate 95 and another set to buildings on the west side of the highway.

At East Ship Island, Miss., Georgia Tech Savannah undergraduate student Justin Singleton surveys the storm surge height based on bark stripped from this tree.

The researchers collected information along the Gulf Coast, as they have done at other disaster sites in recent years, using integrated digital data collection systems Frost and his colleagues have developed. Included among these are data collection systems, called P-Quake and P-Damage, that run on a personal digital assistant and incorporate data from handheld GPS devices, digital cameras and digital voice recorders. The systems allow researchers to collect data in a timely way to ensure its quality in an environment where it could potentially perish as cleanup begins, Frost notes.

A second team, led by Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Hermann Fritz of Georgia Tech Savannah, was the first Georgia Tech research group to conduct reconnaissance in the Gulf Coast area in late September and early October.

'Most amazingly, hurricane-proof designed buildings did not suffer major wind damage, even in areas with peak hurricane winds,' Fritz notes. 'However, all buildings, even massive structures such as hotels and office buildings, were washed out at the height of the storm surge.'

Another team, led by Frost, gathered data along the path of Katrina from the coast northward. 'We wanted to assess the overall infrastructure damage,' Frost explains.

Frost's team also is making a detailed assessment of structural damage to high-rise buildings. They collected data and will analyze it face by face and floor by floor. 'We are trying to determine, for example, why there might have been more damage at a lower level or why one hotel and not the one next to it was damaged,' he explains.

The research team led by Rix is focusing on the Gulf Coast ports, including the Port of New Orleans. Collaborating with Rix are Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Reggie DesRoches, Associate Professor of Public Policy Ann Bostrom and Assistant Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering Alan Erera.

Rix and DesRoches made an initial visit to the Port of New Orleans in October, and the entire team plans to follow up with operations managers there several times next year to track the recovery process.
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